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How to Establish Influence from Scratch

This guest post is by Jonathan Goodman of the Personal Trainer Development Center.

I’m a nobody. Scratch that; I was a nobody.  I work as a personal trainer in Toronto; I had no connections, knew nothing about blogging, and hadn’t written anything since University. 

What I did have was an idea and, with the right know-how, an idea is powerful enough to break through all barriers.

I’m not the first person on the Internet to talk about fitness.  On the contrary, I’m about the 1 000 000th.  My idea, though, was to be different and I decided to cover topics that nobody else was covering. 

You see, every fitness guru on the planet gives suggestions pertaining to exercise prescription, while nobody was effectively teaching trainers how to actually train.  After all, isn’t learning how to effective teach more important than a fancy new version of the squat?

That was my idea: “I’m going to be the one to bring non-exercise prescription advice to personal trainers.”

I launched the Personal Trainer Development Center (PTDC) in April of 2011 and it has become a main resource for personal trainers passionate about getting better.  It already brings in a nice monthly passive income and will provide a great forum for me to sell my book in April of 2012.

The question I get asked constantly is how I made friends with some of the best fitness pros in the World and consistently get them to take part in my site without being able to pay them.  These are folks who charge $200-500 to write elsewhere and give me their article for free.  To take it one step further, I know bloggers who put out brilliant information weekly.  Too bad their mothers are the only ones reading their blogs.

The answer doesn’t lie in SEO and doesn’t lie in buying links.  Those things matter but come later on.  The first step in building a house is a strong foundation.  That foundation hinges on both the relationships you’re able to build and your creative problem solving ability.

This article is the first time I’ve ever written about why I carefully hand-picked the people to be involved in my site and how the power of my idea has grown to both a money-making enterprise and a beacon of change in a badly controlled industry.  Apply these principles to your own industry and watch your influence grow.

Do your research

If you write it, they won’t come.  Content is only king if people read your content and care who you are. 

The first step is getting a thorough understanding of who the movers and shakers are in the informational sector of your industry.  I took a full year to study the fitness internet informational world.  Before launching my site I had research done into who the influencers were and who were the people behind the scenes acting as puppeteers. 

I opened a new email account and subscribed to everybody’s newsletter in addition to adding as many blogs as possible in my reader.  From there, I made notes not only on content but on who was linking to whom.  I was then able to ascertain which bloggers had relationships with whom and who seemed to be competing.

What I quickly realized is that in the fitness world there were a number of distinct “camps.”  Each of these camps had their head guru behind the scenes and top infopreneurs putting out resources.  Peel away the layers and I found all of the soldiers spreading information.

There is good news and bad news here.  The bad news is that you’re too late.  I can promise that these camps and levels already exist in your industry.  The good news is that there aren’t many bloggers who have figured this out yet and you have a great opportunity to become acquainted with these camps. 

Look at it this way: the systems of spreading information are already set up for you.  That’s the hard part.  So how do you break into these camps?

Create a committee of coaches

Anybody can contribute to the PTDC but I have a special section for “coaches” where I highlight their profiles and link back to them.  These coaches are my advisory committee.  I don’t ask for much from them but keep them on an email list.  Camaraderie has evolved where the coaches are now proud to be part of the team and many have built relationships with each other.

If you want to build a community, I recommend having an advisory committee and introducing them.  One of the biggest benefits you can give to new potential contributors is the ability to network with your existing following.

Start strategically small

At this point, your site should be built.  Don’t blast it off to the heads of the aforementioned camps.  You will be ignored.  During your research, though, you took careful notes of the foot soldiers right? Here’s where they come in handy. 

These foot soldiers are trusted within their chosen camp and will act as your person on the inside.  Here’s how I did it.

I noticed that many of the gurus offer internships.  One by one these interns become household fitness names.  It was obvious to me that the gurus weren’t only teaching them fitness, they were also teaching them the internet marketing game. 

In identifying the foot soldiers, I made special note of the folks who had done top tier internships and had small websites popping up or were starting to be quoted on the major blogs.  These were my targets.  I made sure to Like their Facebook updates and comment where warranted.  I also commented on their blogs.  After some back and forth among the comments I sent them a private message asking if they would like to be involved in my site as coaches.

I had a warm opening, as we had had some contact previously, and getting them on as coaches allowed me access to their networks (which, conveniently, consisted of the camps I was desperately trying to break into).

Identifying the foot soldiers in your industry is a great way of gaining entry into the trusted gurus camps.  These people are just as hungry as you are and will jump at the opportunity to network and be part of something bigger than them.

Republish your coaches’ old content

Now that I had a small but well-connected gang of coaches, it was time to approach the influencers.  Armed with my vision and some early success because of good content, I wrote them a message.  Out of the ten I contacted, I had a 90% response rate, and out of those 90%, every one agreed to come on board. 

It was right then that I knew the PTDC was going to make it big.  So how did I get their participation without being able to pay them?

I realized that all of these top fitness pros had been writing for years.  As a result both of their longevity in combination with poorly built sites, I realized that their old material was getting little to no traffic. 

I went through their archives before speaking to them and mentioned a couple of key articles that I had figured they forgot about.  I discussed how these articles would be a great addition to the site and were needed to help the industry.  They supported my powerful idea.

Each of the gurus agreed to come on the team.  I then sent them a list of the articles I wanted to republish and got the okay for each one.  Not only did I get a bank of articles to use for the coming months, so content wouldn’t run dry, I also had given these folks a great forum to attract more readers without any work.

Once two or three top pros were on board, they started referring me other “friends” who might be interested.  Now I also had the advantage of offering new coaches a powerful new network.

While doing your research, make sure to go through the archives of the gurus you found.  Keep a file on your computer of their old articles that support your idea.  It is a great way to stimulate initial traffic to your site.

Creatively solve problems

This process was not always rosey, and there were a lot of problems in building up the PTDC that had to be dealt with.  One I want to cover here is how I approached the top coaches. 

As a new blogger, your only currency is links, and sending out cold calls or messages to top writers won’t get you any response.  After a failed attempt I went a different route and started a weekly blog entitled Online Personal Trainer Blog Posts of the Week. 

It wasn’t much extra work since I was already reading these blogs anyway.  All I changed was to make a file and when I liked a post I kept the link and included it in the article.

Here’s the catch.  I knew which influential bloggers I wanted to approach next and the Posts of the Week blog was my way of making sure they noticed me before I sent them a message.  I linked to their blog and tagged them on Facebook in addition to mentioning them on Twitter.  They would almost always interact back. 

Adding their post to the list was my way of saying, “Hey! I noticed you do good work. Come look at my site and the great info we provide.”  Nobody is every surprised when I send them a message an more as they have all already seen the site.

You will also have problems building up and here is my recommendation to you: figure out who on the internet can help you solve your problem.  Don’t approach them immediately.  Instead, creatively find a way to make them notice you.

Summing it up

Follow Metcalfe’s Law.  Whether you are a new blogger or an existing blogger trying to increase your influence, remember that you are only as valuable as the number of nodes on your network.  Figure out who is already effectively doing what you want to do and find a way into their good books. 

Armed with your powerful idea and with the help of your advisory board your reach will explode.  Remember: content is only king if there are people to read it.

Jonathan Goodman is a personal trainer and blogger.  His powerful idea led him to create the Personal Trainer Development Center and maintain a personal site


About Guest Blogger
This post was written by a guest contributor. Please see their details in the post above.
  1. Content is king only if there are people reading it. So true! I think you have given very sound advise above, and the example of what you went through to determine who had influence is very interesting.

    • Thanks Michelle. It isn’t the quickest way. Network is everything. Nothing a blogger says hasn’t been said before. It’s important to say it differently and get the people who matter to care.

  2. Hi Jonathan,
    I took about a year before starting my blog too. Subscribing to newsletters and reading as much content as I could really helped me to become a better blogger. I will check out your site too.

    • I saw you commented on a post of ours. Thanks for stopping by the site Justin.

      Why reinvent the wheel right? Study the ppl doing well and copy them

  3. Wow. This will good for me since i am a newbie in blogging. This prove that you can make a mark even if you don’t have nothing yet. Good Post.

  4. This seems to be a pretty good review of what we need to do for our own online businesses.

  5. Great post. I appreciate how methodical you are in establishing influence and building a win-win scenario with the big guys. Too many people are looking for a win on their part only and exect the pro’s to help them, when they have done nothing in return.

    • I agree. There are a lot of little guys looking for a handout or a leg-up. A new blogger must make themselves valuable and relevant to get notice and then be able to share something useful to others.

    • Very true both of you. Fortunately. Every blogger owns currency. Most of them just don’t realize how to use the power they wield.

  6. Hey Jonathan,

    I think you and I were using a pretty similar playbook.

    One thing that I have found is that when I republish content and give it a new life, the author is usually willing to link to it on his/her website/facebook/twitter. So not only do I get the benefit of the great content, but also the conveyance of trust and new readers.

    One more idea that is working for me is to take a specific topic, and seek out an expert to answer a few of MY questions. In this case, I get to inject myself into the situation (in the context of trying to find the answer to a problem that is on the mind of my readers), and have more ability to shape the content. So it ends up being a nice middle ground between republishing something and asking someone to write a piece of fresh content just for my site.

    All the best,


  7. Good information for just about anyone involved with the process of writing online!

  8. Interesting post, Jonathan.

    It is said that everything starts with an idea. The trick is, going that little bit further and making that Idea into something tangible.

    The rest of your articles includes some really insightful, yet, so often overlooked approaches to establishing a blog or website out on the web.

  9. The blogosphere has changed in the past few years and your take on this article provide a way to see this new angle. At this point in time, all of the niches are probably covered. Now it’s about how to become the big players. Your take painted a picture how to do this. Thank you….

  10. This is a great article and I firmly believe in providing great and quality content, You have to be 100% honest and truly help others by providing your expertise.

  11. Jonathan,

    This was an excellent post. I liked how it combined quality content and relationship-building in a very strategic, focused way.

    I’m on a similar path. I’ve spent the past year reading a lot of blogs and studying successful bloggers. The reason was that in the past, I’d launch new sites without doing adequate research. Getting exposure to good role models is a fine method for learning best practices.

    One key point you made early on was to approach your niche from a different angle. That’s a huge edge when you try to engage the influencers. They see you as adding value and filling an unmet need, rather than as a competitor.

  12. GREAT read, Jon! Very insightful and actionable, and exactly what I expect from you. When you approached me to come on board the PTDC I was quick to say yes. I believe in your vision and I admire your ambition.

  13. Your technique constist in a lot of work ( research, networking ), but for some of us, the time is a main problem.

  14. this is absolutely priceless information. I love love the whole anology of a camp and befriending the foot soliders, then gaining entry. This is my new stategy for the new year. I think you must impower them so they don’t feel threatened by you and thus the trust will start building. Thanks Jonathan

  15. I’m amazed no one thought about covering the topics you wrote about. I guess people try to target what everybody is already talking about and that does not get your voice heard. Great tips, thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks James. I got asked about a 1000 times how I was able to put together such a dynamite crew being unknown and from Canada (unfortunately a disadvantage, I’ve been to the states 10x this year). I figured I would answer the question in detail. Problogger was the first book I ever read on blogging and influenced me greatly so I’m honored to be on the site.

  16. Michelle says: 12/24/2011 at 2:43 am

    Good article Jonathan. I really appreciate your strategic approach. Can you comment on the timing of your content publishing vs. when you began to contact your coaches?

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